If you have lived and traveled in the Great Lakes region, I think you will agree that there are some pretty amazing sites to explore. This may be why so many folks in the upper lakes don’t venture far for a great family beach vacation. There are over 10,500 miles of shoreline along the Great Lakes, and with hundreds of beach towns, there is too much awesomeness that one must not miss. We took a look around and found some great beaches in every state that share the Great Lakes plus Ontario. Here is a small set of some obscure and playful and sandy beaches in the Great Lakes region that you won’t want to miss on your travels.
#10 Pennsylvania – Presque Isle State Park Lake Erie Beaches
We almost overlooked the Quacker state as it only has a small shoreline on Lake Erie. However, it plays host to one of the best beaches on Lake Erie. The Presque Isle State Park draws more than four million visitors a year, making it Pennsylvania’s most visited state park. It has 13 beaches that offer kayaking, swimming, boat tours, bird watching, hiking, and fishing.
The park has two historical sites. The Commodore Perry Monument near Misery Bay commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. The 1870s Presque Isle Lighthouse offers visitors the ability to walk up the light tower for views of Lake Erie and the beaches.
#9 Minnesota – Singing Iona Beach on the North Shore of Lake Superior
One of the famous places along the Great Lakes shoreline can be found on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Pink Rhyolite rock creates a beach about 300 yards long and seen from the Highway. The unique aspect that everyone finds amazing is the sound created by the clear water waves on the stones. When the waves break and crash over the smooth rocks, they make a tinkling or clinking sound as they re-settle before the next wave. The beach is a bit hard to find, but many consider it a must-stop on Lake Superior’s North Shore.
To visit this obscure but popular Superior beach, it’s located in Two Harbors, Minnesota, just north of Gooseberry Falls State Park.
The 10-acre park is one of the Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas on Lake Superior. The beach is about 200 yards from a public access parking lot off US Hwy 61, north of Duluth. Look for a small sign saying ‘Twin Points Water’ access at mile marker 42. Just north of Gooseberry Falls, State Park.
#8 Illinois – The North Avenue Beach of Chicago on Lake Michigan
It has been called a blue and green oasis in a concrete jungle. The North Avenue Beach marquee attraction is its massive 22,000-foot beach house that looks like an ocean liner. Located within Lincoln Park, this city beach offers some of the best views of the Chicago skyline. You can rent a kayak or paddleboard and explore the shoreline. Grab an ice cream or sandwich at one of several food stands. Even get a swimsuit and sandals from apparel shops.
If you are tired of all the sand between your toes, you can explore the main park or check out the chimps in the Lincoln Park Zoo. If the weather turns, you can get out of the sun or rain at the nearby Chicago History Museum on North Clark Street.
#7 Ontario Canada’s Grand Bend & Ipperwash Beaches on Lake Huron
This stretch of sand on the South shore of Lake Huron in the Grand Bend area is an experience to behold. The beach town crowds tend to be young around Grand Bend and family-oriented along Ipperwash beach. But, regardless of where you end up, you can enjoy the beach, the dunes, the ice cream, and the vibe. Since this stretch of beach is on the southeast shore, visitors can enjoy some of the best sunsets in the region. Grand Bend is the quintessential vacationer town. Beach shops, pubs, restaurants, cottages, and art galleries are a short walk away.
Grand Bend Beach has been designated a Blue Flag Beach. This means it has been certified by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) that the beach meets stringent environmental and sustainability standards.
#6 Ohio’s Headlands Beach State Park on Lake Erie
Headlands Beach State Park offers a mile-long natural sand beach on Lake Erie, the largest in Ohio. Visitors can swim, picnic, and fish along a nearby break wall. Trails are running through the park along the shore, which dates back to the Iroquois.
The park began in the early 1950s when Ohio began acquiring land to create a state park. The park opened in 1953 as Painesville Beach State Park and changed to Headlands Beach in 1955. The main attraction is its beautiful beaches. In the 1960s, the beach area was modernized with parking lots, concession buildings, restrooms, and changing booths. CNN’s Travel program named Headlands as one of the top 20 beaches in the United States.
#5 Michigan – Saugatuck Oval Beach on Lake Michigan
The Saugatuck coastal community is known as a favorite getaway for those from Chicago, but the folks from Michigan love it. Oval Beach is a large sandy, breezy beach with nearby dunes common along the Lake Michigan shore. Walk to the pier and around along the channel for a change of scenery. There is a concession stand for soft-serve ice cream cones and drinks.
We got the best advice to park at Mount Baldhead Park and walk up the narrow road to Oval Beach. Parking is $10/day. Watch the weather when visiting any beach on the Lake Michigan shoreline. It is famous for its rip currents which can take an unwary swimmer out a half-mile or more from the beach.
If you are interested in a little road trip, the picturesque town of Grand Haven is a short drive only 45 minutes north of Saugatuck. The Grand Haven State Park, with its iconic pier and lighthouse, is one of the most photographed sights on the Great Lakes, especially if Lake Michigan is wavy with a stiff west wind.
#4 Wisconsin’s North Beach at Racine on Lake Michigan
Considered one of the best Great Lakes Beaches, this famous shore is almost a half-mile long on Lake Michigan’s western coast and rated #4 of the “51 Great American Beaches” by USA Today. This 50-acre park is a beautiful place, and it also has the distinction of being rated as a Blue Wave Beach (The US version of the Blue Flag rating for environmental certification for beaches) This city beach has also been rated favorably by Parents Magazine and Midwest Living.
Located in Racine, the beach experience rival Chicago’s with live music, volleyball, Kid’s Cove playground, picnic tables, and picnic areas, kayak rentals, and food concessions. The park is also friendly to those with disabilities with handicap ramps.
#3 Indiana – Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan
With views of the Chicago skyline on crisp clear days and large dunes, hiding remote enclaves and several Lake Michigan beaches along this National Lakeshore is a taste of wilderness surrounded by urban and industrial growth. The lakeshore is also known as being a bird watcher paradise as flocks cross the area in migratory patterns extending into the northern Great Lakes. There are ten separate beaches within the large lakeshore park with West Beach, Mount Baldy, and Portage Lakefront being the most popular.
Congress designated the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966. The park covers 15,000 acres and incorporates the Indiana Dunes State Park within its boundaries. Indiana continues to manage and charge a separate admission fee to the state park. The park is split in two by the Port of Indiana and several steel mills.
#2 New York – Sandy Island Beach State Park on Lake Ontario
Long considered underrated in upstate New York, this park is situated on Lake Ontario’s eastern edge, thus offering the prettiest sunsets. The park offers a sandy beach on Lake Ontario, a bathhouse, a picnic area, fishing, and bird watching. If you bring a small sailboat or kayak, there is a car-top boat launch. Lake Ontario’s current high water levels are causing erosion and loss of sand from the main beach. The net effect is a narrow strip of beach. This phenomenon is happening in the entire Great Lakes region.
The Lake Ontario Dune and Wetland System is a 17-mile shoreline, which extends along Lake Ontario. The unique sand dunes are similar to those found on Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and along the western Michigan shoreline. These sand dunes are the only large freshwater dunes site in the northeastern United States.
#1 Warren Dunes State Park on Lake Michigan
With over 1 million annual visitors, the Warren Dunes State Park is one of Michigan’s most popular beaches and state parks. Located on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore, this 1,952-acre Michigan state park hosts large dunes and lakeshore beaches. The park is only an hour and a half drive from Chicago.
The best beaches of Warren Dunes are beautiful and they have even set aside a perfect place along the shore to be dog friendly. Lifeguards can be found overseeing some of the largest beach areas, and food services are available.
Related Great Lakes Beaches Posts
Caseville County Beach – Party and Gathering Spot – While you can’t drive on the beach, you can park close enough to get a great view of sunsets or the fireworks shot off the Caseville breakwater pier on July 4th. During the annual Cheeseburger festival, key events such as the cardboard canoe race and the sand sculpture draw large crowds. The warm water of Saginaw Bay during mid-summer makes it a perfect family spot for a swim.
Under the Radar, Michigan Visits the Thumb – The PBS Network show “Under the Radar Michigan” visited the tip of Michigan Upper Thumb in the lower peninsula area during the summer of 2019. To those who love the Thumb, this has been a much-anticipated episode. We offer a glimpse of the highlights.
2020 Could Set New Record Water Levels Across Great Lakes – This monthly update from the Detroit District of the Army Corps of Engineers offers current and forecasted lake water levels of Lakes Michigan-Huron. 2020 looks to be at the cusp of setting historical records of lake levels for all the Great Lakes. This is affecting beaches, marinas, and homeowners along the lakeshore.
Leland Fishtown – Picture Perfect Dockside Village – North of Traverse City to the small scenic slice of the historic Fishtown on the edge of Lake Michigan on the Leland peninsula. Walking the docks is to experience a scene that is over one hundred years in the making.
Bird Creek County Park in Port Austin – Bird Creek County Park Beach in Port Austin is a seven-acre day-use park located at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb. Bird Creek features a 350-foot boardwalk along its one-acre beach with roofed picnic shelters overlooking the beach and the water. The boardwalk includes picnic spots, benches, restrooms, a large shelter, and connections to play areas and shore fishing. It’s a favorite beach for those visiting Port Austin. The park features a large picnic Pavilion adjacent to a playground, restrooms, and shower facility. Concession stands with pop, ice cream & snacks are available on weekends.